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Improving Productivity by Improving Lighting

Improving Productivity by Improving Lighting
Lightbulb

    We all know that our surroundings affect our ability to get work done, from that irritating buzzing from the next cubicle over to the uncomfortable chair causing our back pain. But what about lighting? Has the flicker of fluorescent lighting finally gotten to you?

    There are plenty of problems attributed to lighting, from migraines to eye strain. On top of the physical issues, though, depending on the type of lighting in your work area, you may be running into some mental issues as well.

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    For me, insufficient lighting is practically a guarantee that I’m not going to be productive. I may even nod off for a while. In order to get my work done, I have to have some decent lighting! Even a minor change in the lights in my workspace have improved my productivity enormously, making it easier for me to focus on my work, and even to see it.

    Choosing the right lighting

    Picking out light bulbs can be just as important as picking out a comfortable chair. You have to take into account glare from your computer screen, environmental impact and cost, as well as what level of lighting you work best in. And lighting doesn’t just affect your mood at work. Many people subconsciously choose home lighting that doesn’t remind them of their work environment.

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    Most office buildings rely on light bulbs in the 6500K range, or about the same lighting level as daylight. I use 6500K light bulbs in my home office as well — they’re available just about everywhere, although brands seem to pick and choose whether to label their bulbs as ‘daylight’ or ‘6500K.’ I’ve found that it’s much easier to keep myself on track with better lighting — in the past I’ve relied on an open window augmented by a desk lamp with a fairly weak light bulb.

    Lighting designers routinely recommend that desk workers rely on two light sources for their offices: a general indirect lighting source to generally brighten up a room and “task lighting,” a small direct light source that can be focused on the paper you’re reading or another task at hand. While fluorescents and other options are fine for general illumination, but halogen bulbs are better for detail work, because halogen renders colors with a clarity that other types of lighting often lack.

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    Ideas for making the switch

    To provide examples of improvements you can make to your office lighting, we have three lighting makeovers. You can draw ideas from these situations, especially if you don’t have the option of finding a lighting designer for your work space.

    Steve works in an office in an older building. He can see a window from his desk, but most of his lighting comes from the bevy of fluorescent panels installed in the drop ceiling. For Steve, the most crucial lighting issue is the glare on his monitor. Steve’s first step is turning off the fluorescents entirely. Because he’s in an older building, he may actually have more lighting than he needs, due to old school lighting designers’ good intentions to provide workers with as much light as possible. To replace the fluorescents, Steve brings in lamps, to provide indirect lighting. He also chooses to look for a daylight bulb to help him stay on track. He adds a goose neck lamp that he can redirect to whichever task he’s focused on.

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    James works in a studio and, as an artist, needs more control over his lighting than Steve does. While he’s looked into dimmer switches and related options, James has decided that he wants multiple fixtures for finer control. For the main light source in the room, he chooses a fluorescent bulb of the ‘natural color’ variety — a bit softer than daylight but a good bulb for color rendition, a key factor for an artist. James also invests in several small lamps that he can easily manipulate, choosing halogen bulbs so that he can bring as much light to bear on his work as necessary.

    George works in his home office, in his basement. He rarely gets a chance to see sunlight during his work day and wants to use daylight bulbs to bring brightness into his work space. However, he’s also concerned about saving money on his electric bill. George opts for compact fluorescent bulbs, which have a higher initial cost but are more efficient than the incandescent and fluorescent bulbs George was considering. That efficiency means a lower electricity bill for George. He finds 6500K, or daylight, compact fluorescent bulbs that work with three-way lamps — they offer up three different settings so that George can control his light source to match what he’s doing.

    Beyond examples

    These three work areas were simple samples of a few changes that can be made to your work area. Consider lighting as another facet of ergonomics, and you may even be able to convince a manager to make the changes for you. Improvements don’t need to be limited to work areas, either. Consider improving the mood in the relaxing areas of your home, such as your bedroom, just by changing out that daylight light bulb for something more soothing.

    There are thousands of lighting combinations available, even for the amateur lighting designer. You may have to try out a couple to find that particular combination that improves your personal productivity. I know from experience, however, that even a little change can be well worth the effort. Even changing a single light bulb can relieve eye strain, save money and generally make it easier to work.

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    Last Updated on March 25, 2020

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    1. Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    2. Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    3. Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    4. Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    5. Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    6. Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    7. Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    8. Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More Note-Taking Tips

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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